August 11, 2021

HomeFront’s New Garden Is Labor of Love By All Saints’ Church Volunteers

UNDER THE PERGOLA: HomeFront staff and community members who made the Healing and Memorial Garden possible include, from left, Dana Irlbacher, Bay Weber, Liz Wasch, Marc Allen, Frederick Wasch, and the Rev. Dr. Hugh Brown. 

By Wendy Greenberg

Families at HomeFront have been able to reflect and enjoy the natural beauty of a new Healing and Memorial Garden at the Family Campus of the organization’s Family Preservation Center in Ewing.

HomeFront and community members formally dedicated the garden on July 30, with representatives of the All Saints’ Parish family and clergy, Mercer County nonprofit leaders, HomeFront staff, and HomeFront clients and guests all on hand. The garden’s centerpiece is a pergola constructed by volunteer members of All Saints’ Church in Princeton, which has had a long-term partnership with HomeFront, a Mercer County agency that helps homeless and at-risk families break the cycle of poverty.

“The garden is a natural extension of our Family Campus,” said Sheila Addison, director of the Family Campus. “Both are places to help families rebuild their spirits after dealing with the pain and trauma of homelessness.”

The garden will provide a place for meditative thought, moments of beauty, and gardening projects, while also commemorating the passing of HomeFront family members. During the dedication, a HomeFront Family Preservation Center client noted how the Mediation Garden has offered a respite during difficult times.

The pergola replaces a similar one constructed by the church in 2010 at the Family Preservation Center’s former home at the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf. After moving to its present location in 2015, HomeFront asked All Saints’ to construct the new one, which was completed shortly before the pandemic outbreak, but was only recently able to be formally dedicated.

The pergola faces an extensive garden of indigenous flowers planted with the help of Meredith Melendez of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, the Mercer County Board of Agriculture, landscape architect Bay Weber, and the Wasch Family Foundation, according to information from the church. The construction involved five or six people at a time, some 20 total, said All Saints’ communications representative Paul K. Murphy. He explained that the topography of the land is different than at the old location, so a stone walkway of about 100 feet was professionally built. The garden was meant to attract butterflies, and he said some monarchs were sighted during the dedication “It’s quite an extensive garden.”

All Saints’ parishioners constructed and financed the pavilion area, benches, pathway, and some of the landscaping from 2017-2018, as part of its commitment to projects of relief and advocacy.

The Rev. Dr. Hugh Brown, Rector of All Saints’ Church, said, “We are honored and blessed to partner with HomeFront in support of at-risk families; spiritual support is so critical to human dignity, respect, and empowerment. Our own Christian faith calls us to serve God by serving our neighbor, especially our vulnerable neighbor. We are thankful to be part of the Healing and Memorial Garden project of the Family Preservation Center; it is a work of healing, hope and renewal. This is faith in action.”

HomeFront has been a major partner of the church for several decades. Other projects have included collecting school supplies, Christmas gifts, and more.

HomeFront provides shelter, food, supplies, and programs of empowerment, education, and advocacy. Last year, 209 families with 219 children experiencing homelessness received intensive support and lived with dignity at HomeFront’s Family Campus and emergency shelters, said HomeFront Community Engagement Coordinator Suki Wasserman.

At the Family Campus, parents and their children receive a safe place to stay and all the tools they need to become self-sufficient, including case management, childcare, education, job training and placement, life and parenting classes and much more, she said in an email.  In addition to providing this type of service-enriched emergency shelter, HomeFront also provided permanent, affordable housing to 155 families last year and distributed rental assistance to 151 more. The nonprofit’s comprehensive services model wraps families in all of the services needed to help them break the cycle of poverty.

Connie Mercer, HomeFront founder and CEO, said the garden was a symbol of “renewal, hope and new life,” for clients and guests of HomeFront. “My hope is that this will become a place where our parents can come to reflect and renew, our children can laugh and sing and witness the joy of nature, and those who we miss can always be remembered.”